Coronavirus: The music show shot in the lockdown

By Steven McKenzie
BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands reporter

  • Published
Julie and ÉamonImage source, Bees Nees Media
Image caption,
Singer Julie Fowlis and musician husband Éamon Doorley

An eight-part music programme has been made during the lockdown. Its presenter, Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, says the series comes at a time of hardship but also innovation for musicians.

Fowlis and her Irish musician husband Éamon Doorley would usually expect to spend weeks on the road performing their music.

"Within a couple of weeks of the pandemic our work quickly crumbled," said the award-winning singer and multi-instrumentalist.

"It was just like watching a stack of dominoes falling. We are now looking at it as being year of no live music."

The Highlands-based musician added: "We consider ourselves lucky because we have different things we can do and we can carry on. I have some presenting work and Éamon and I are busy writing new music and we are recording a new album.

"But many hardworking colleagues in our music community worldwide play and teach day after day week after week, but with no-fixed contracts.

"And while many folk and traditional musicians play to a very high level - often on worldwide stages - if they don't benefit from getting millions of plays of their own music on streaming platforms, national radio play or are writing for chart-topping artists, it has become difficult to earn from home.

"Revenue from online plays are so low, teaching and live music is often at the heart of how musicians earn nowadays."

Fowlis performed in last month's virtual Folk on Foot Front Room Festival. It raised tens of thousands of pounds to support musicians struggling financially, but Fowlis said she was heart-broken to later learn from the organisers of the large numbers of artists applying for the funding.

She said: "These times have shone a light for me on how fragile making a living from music can be."

Lockdown tunes

Image source, Tazmene
Image caption,
Tamzene has record a new track at her home in Cromarty

Other artists have also continued to work and perform during the pandemic.

They include Cromarty-based Tamzene Allison-Power.

She has written, recorded and mixed a new track - Accidently Told You - at her home, playing on her family's "old and slightly out of tune" piano.

Tamzene, who has performed at Belladrum in the Highlands and Glasgow's TRNSMT festival, has been learning online how to record and mix music.

On social media, traditional musicians have been performing #Quarantunes and #COVIDCeilidhs. Among the performers have been composer, fiddle and folk musician Duncan Chisholm, guitarist Anna Massie and BBC Scotland broadcasters Iain Macinnes and Karen Elder.

Fowlis has also found joy in the lockdown from the innovative ways musicians have adopted to keep performing at some level.

Many have been posting tunes to social media, while Fowlis, her husband and a group of musicians from Scotland, Europe and North America have made the new music show for Gaelic TV channel BBC ALBA.

Using supplied camera kit or whatever personal devices they have at home, the musicians filmed performances in their homes in the making of Julie Fowlis - Ceòl aig Baile (Music at Home).

"It was very exciting and challenging," said Fowlis.

Image source, Bees Nees Media
Image caption,
Fowlis says the new series is both timely and entertaining

"It was a really steep learning curve creating this programme. We are usually afforded the luxury of a film crew to look after the lights, sound and cameras - all these people who work hours creating a TV programme and an audience doesn't see.

"We did our best with the lighting and doing our own make up for the filming. I'm really looking forward to seeing the out-takes."

Among the musicians involved in the new show are Grammy winning guitar due Rodrigo y Gabriela, acclaimed musicians Rosanne Cash, Zoë Conway, John McIntyre and renowned Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes.

Fowlis said: "With festivals and gigs all postponed and cancelled, we thought this would be a great opportunity for artists to work together to create something that's both timely and entertaining. It was a really fun thing to do."

The programme started on BBC ALBA on Thursday and episodes are available on the BBC iPlayer for 30 days.